Longform’s Picks of the Week

Longform’s Picks of the Week

Every weekend, Longform highlights its favorite international articles of the week. For daily picks of new and classic nonfiction, check out Longform or follow @longform on Twitter. Have an iPad? Download Longform’s new app and read all of the latest in-depth stories from dozens of magazines, including Foreign Policy.

Inside America’s Dirty Wars
Jeremy Scahill • The Nation

On the drone strikes that killed Anwar al-Awlaki and his U.S.-born son.

On the evening of May 5, Awlaki and some friends were driving through Jahwa, in rural southern Shabwah, when their pickup truck was rocked by a massive explosion nearby, shattering its windows. Awlaki saw a flash of light and believed that a rocket had been fired at their vehicle. “Speed up!” he yelled at the driver. Awlaki looked around the truck and took stock of the situation. No one was hurt. The back of the pickup was filled with canisters of gasoline, yet the vehicle had not exploded. Alhamdulillah, Awlaki thought, according to his detailed account of the incident that later appeared in Inspire, the English-language magazine published by Al Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula (AQAP). “Praise God.” He called for help.

While Awlaki and his colleagues scrambled to get away from what they thought was an ambush, JSOC planners watched via satellite as his truck emerged from the dust clouds that the Griffin missile had caused. They’d missed-there had been a malfunction in the targeting pod, and the missile’s guidance system was unable to keep a lock on Awlaki’s vehicle. It would now be up to the Harriers and the drones.

John Moore/Getty Images

Natural Born Killers
Nathaniel Penn • GQ

A collection of war stories told by female combat veterans of the U.S. military.

I remember hearing the bullets hit the ground beside me and hit my truck behind me. Our squad leader had us sneak around and flank them. From a trench line that overlooked the field, we laid down fire, and I know that I shot, and made fall, three. After twenty minutes, most of the insurgents out in that field were incapacitated, but there were three more still left in the trench line opposite us, about thirty meters away. We knew that the only way we were going to end this is if we took them out. The staff sergeant and myself, we jumped in the trench; our teammate followed us along the top. I was so concentrated that I couldn’t hear the bullets. I didn’t even hear my own rifle. We hugged the wall of the trench on the right side. It kind of jutted out a little bit and gave us cover, but we couldn’t get the right angle to kill them with our rifles. We resorted to throwing grenades. That did the trick. Looking at what was left of them, I felt nothing.

A woman can’t be a killer? I beg the contrary.

Staff Sergeant Leigh Ann Hester, military police, Army National Guard

Alex Wong/Getty Images

The Wanderer
Yulia Yuzik • Foreign Policy

On the life of Degi Dudayev, the son of independent Chechnya’s dead president.

“Even when my father was alive we would often move around. We lived in Siberia, in Poltava [in Ukraine], and in Estonia. But if in those days we had the feeling of being at home everywhere we went, now it’s the opposite: no father, no home, nowhere. I’m like the eternal stranger and really don’t live anywhere. I visit my mother in Tbilisi, my brother and sister in Sweden, go skiing in Austria, and swim in the sea in Greece. I could have long immigrated wherever I wanted — Sweden, Holland, Germany. For a few months I lived in Paris, trying to size the place up. But no, none of it was for me. What keeps me here is….”

He goes quiet, as if choosing just the right words. “Here I can still hear the Russian language. In Europe, I always get the sense that I’m at the edge of the world, always moving further from my home. I start to panic, thinking I’ll never return, and because of the Russian language I got stuck here.”

Aleksei Maishev/GQ Russia

Desert Silence
Robert Twigger • Aeon

Escaping Cairo to experience the quiet of the Sahara desert.

A film director once told me that shooting exteriors in Cairo is a nightmare. Often they fake it, using Tunisian locations instead. The reason is the sound: the hum, they call it. You get it even if you shoot at 3am on Zamalek island, the wealthy garden district in the middle of the Nile. It’s the aural equivalent of smog; hardly noticeable at first, not a problem for many, but insidious, worming its way inside you, rattling you, shaking you up like a cornflake packet. Your contents never settle. Someone told me a story about a man who bought adulterated cocaine. A flake of aluminium sulphate lodged in his sinus and burned a hole right through his skull and into his brain. I pictured Cairo’s hum as a slow acid eating its way through the fragile bones of the ear, into the cortex.

John Moore/Getty Images

Carjack Victim Recounts His Harrowing Night
Eric Moskowitz • Boston Globe

The 26-year-old who found himself carjacked by the Boston bombing suspects.

The story of that night unfolds like a Tarantino movie, bursts of harrowing action laced with dark humor and dialogue absurd for its ordinariness, reminders of just how young the men in the car were. Girls, credit limits for students, the marvels of the Mercedes ML 350 and the iPhone 5, whether anyone still listens to CDs — all were discussed by the two 26-year-olds and the 19-year-old driving around on a Thursday night.

Danny described 90 harrowing minutes, first with the younger brother following in a second car, then with both brothers in the Mercedes, where they openly discussed driving to New York, though Danny could not make out if they were planning another attack. Throughout the ordeal, he did as they asked while silently analyzing every threatened command, every overheard snatch of dialogue for clues about where and when they might kill him.

Mario Tama/Getty Images